Half of motorists struggle to see in the dark - here's how to stay safe as the clocks go back

Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 1:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 1:01 pm

Half of UK’s motorists struggle to see properly while driving in the dark and millions more admit to trying to avoid nighttime driving because of nerves.

Ahead of the clocks going back this weekend, research has found millions of drivers struggle with issues such a glare, blurred vision and being dazzled and as many as one in three try to avoid driving in the dark because of the reduced visibility.

A study by optical lens maker Essilor found that 68 per cent of drivers said objects look slightly out of focus in dim light, 73 per cent were affected by night-time glare from artificial lighting and 91 per cent complained of being dazzled by oncoming headlights.

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Dr. Andy Hepworth from Essilor explained why so many people struggle during the darker days: “Our vision is not adapted to night-time driving environments, and eye sensitivity is different in the daytime than at night. Therefore, driving in the dark, we are exposed to multiple and intense sources of light that create reflections and glare; the impact on vision is difficulty in adapting, reduced peripheral vision, decreased contrast sensitivity, increased response time, difficulties in motion perception and navigation issues.

To help drivers adapt and cope with driving in low-light conditions, Dr Hepworth offered the following advice:

Almost all drivers report regularly being dazzled by other vehicles' headlights

Adjust your eyes to the dark before driving

Give yourself a few minutes in the car to allow your eyes to adjust to the lower light level before you start driving. Low light levels cause the pupil of the eye to become larger and this can accentuate any focusing errors – no matter how minor – causing blur. Low-light levels can similarly lead to a reduction in the contrast of objects.

At night it’s also more important than ever to wear a pair of spectacles or contact lenses with an up-to-date prescription. It’s a legal requirement that your vision meets standards for driving.

Keep your distance

It is more difficult to judge distance at night-time so allow extra space between you and the car in front as this gives more time to react to situations ahead of you.

It's advisable to leave more space in dark conditions

Keep windscreens smear-free

Make sure the outside of both windscreens is clean and streak free before setting off and ensure your washer fluid is good quality and always topped up. Keep a microfibre cloth in the glove box to clear any condensation and smears on the inside. And while you’re at it, if you wear glasses give them a wipe over too so they are smear free and clear. Scratched or smudged glasses will reduce image quality.

Regularly check and adjust mirrors

Advice on safe night driving includes regularly adjusting rear view mirrors to reduce glare from behind.Some newer vehicles come with self-dimming rear-view mirror functionality, which is worth looking out for to help reduce glare.

Be visible

Headlights not only help drivers to see better but are an important safety feature to be seen. Regularly check that all lights are in full working order. It is illegal to drive at night without fully-functioning headlights and police officers will stop vehicles that don't comply with the guidelines.

Dip don’t dazzle

While taking steps to be safe from the dazzle of other driver’s headlights, it’s important that all drivers are taking the correct steps in their own vehicles. Adjust your car headlights if you’re carrying varying loads and check that they are aligned properly. Headlamp aim forms part of a vehicle’s MOT, but ask your local garage to inspect that they are aligned properly whenever your vehicle goes in for a service. Also, always dip headlights when facing oncoming traffic.

Slow down or stop

Rule 237 of the Highway Code states that if you’re dazzled by bright sunlight "slow down or if necessary stop". The same applies for being dazzled at night. If your vision is in any way causing concern, pull over in a safe place and take the necessary steps to try and improve vision (clearing a windscreen or adjusting mirrors).

Have your eyes tested

Ensuring your eyesight is up to scratch is also crucial. Most people over the age of about 45 will need some vision correction to see in sharp focus, and everyone should have their eyes checked by an optician at least every two years as your sight can change without it being obvious.

Use anti-glare glasses lenses

Specially developed lens coating can reduce glare and reflection by up to 90 per cent compared to a lens that has no anti-reflective treatment. This can help to remove distractions from glare caused by streetlights, traffic lights and headlights from other cars.